The first Springsteen song I ever heard was ‘Born To Run’, back when I was 14. I clocked the impassioned, overwrought self-mythologising, the grandiosity of the opening riff, the strange lack of a chorus given the promise of the verse. Well, OK, interesting, I reckoned — maybe even good. But great? Never.
I shifted my judgment only once over the following 45 years. Born in the USA had the tunes and stories and the sheer heft that for once matched the chutzpah and the looks. The rest has been either just good or, more often than not, quite a bit less than good. I always reckoned that perpetual sideman Nils Lofgren was by far the superior songwriter, but Nils isn’t quite as alpha male as Bruce.
Western Stars is Bruce’s venture back into Americana, this time weighed down with more strings than you’d find in an insurance policy. Hideously tasteful elegies to washed-up stuntmen and useless country singers, with Brucie ‘hitch-hikin’ and ‘ridin’ and ‘chasin’ wild horses’ (natch). He also, rather imprudently, has a go at Tex-Mex-lite on the otherwise unremarkable ‘Sleepy Joe’s Café’. Occasionally a suitably mournful pedal steel does the job of the strings, but nothing lifts the songs out of their monochrome and often monotone melodies, until the last two on the album. ‘Hello Sunshine’ and ‘Moonlight Motel’ linger a little in the memory, although even then you do sometimes wish he’d stop moaning for once. I mean, come on, mate, you haven’t had it that hard, have you? Anyway, alienation beneath the bright wide skies of the prairies with sweet MOR arrangements: Jimmy Webb did this schtick much, much better.